April 12, 2009
Maersk Alabama captain freed
At approximately 7:19 p.m (12:19 p.m. EDT) Sunday. U.S. naval forces rescued Capt. Richard Phillips, the master of MV MaerskAlabama.
"This was an incredible team effort, and I am extremely proud of the tireless efforts of all the men and women who made this rescue possible" said Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. "The actions of Capt. Phillips and the civilian mariners of Maersk-Alabama were heroic. They fought back to regain control of their ship, and Capt. Phillips selflessly put his life in the hands of these armed criminals in order to protect his crew."
Captain Phillips was in "imminent danger" when U.S. military snipers shot and killed three of his captors, said Admiral Gortney, providing preliminary details of the rescue mission during a news conference.
Off the Somali coast, U.S. special operations snipers held positions at the rear of the USS Bainbridge, which was towing the 18-foot lifeboat that held Phillips and three pirates some 25-30 meters away.
"The snipers positioned on the fantail of the Bainbridge observed one of the pirates in the pilot house -- and two pirates with their head and shoulders exposed -- and one of the pirates had the AK47 (assault rifle) leveled at the captain's back," Gortney said.
Gortney said the White House had given military operators "very clear guidance and authority" if Phillips' life was in danger.
"The on-scene commander took it as the captain was in imminent danger and then made that decision (to shoot), and he had the authorities to make that decision, and he had seconds to make that decision," Gortney said.
On the marksmanship of the snipers Gortney said, "We pay a lot for their training and we got a good return on our investment."
Naval forces rescued Phillips on a rigid-inflatable boat and transferred him to the USS Bainbridge before he was flown to the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, where he contacted his family, received a routine medical evaluation, and is resting comfortably, ccording to a U.S. Navy statement.
Gortney said Phillips was in good health and suffered no apparent injuries, despite being "tied up inside the lifeboat" for at least part of his five days as a hostage. He noted that a fourth pirate surrendered and is being held in U.S. forces' custody.
According to agency reports, the fourth pirate was on board the Bainbridge negotiating when the order to fire was given.
President Barack Obama praised the rescue effort.
"I am very pleased that Captain Phillips has been rescued and is safely on board the USS Boxer," Obama said in a White House statement. "His safety has been our principal concern, and I know this is a welcome relief to his family and his crew.
"I am also very proud of the efforts of the US military and many other departments and agencies who worked tirelessly to secure Captain Phillips' safe recovery," he said. "I share the country's admiration for the bravery of Captain Phillips and his selfless concern for his crew. His courage is a model for all Americans."
Boston.com has a video of Admiral Gortney's press conference HERE